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Starting Over (Again)

January 21st, 2014 at 10:02 am

How have you been??
Let's catch up!
I left my position as partner at the law firm for a new position in higher education (not a teaching position). This is a financial mixed bag. On paper, I left a higher salary -but in actuality, I gained financial stability, (hopefully) lower taxes and a retirement plan. If I stay at my employer, my kids will be eligible to attend a nationally known and accredited 4 year private university for free.

Over the last two years my partnership cost me financially, forcing us to stop forward progress on debt reduction and spend a chunk of savings. It was disheartening.

Moving forward feels good. As expected, the first few months in the new job have been rough - less take home pay, a new paycheck schedule and the usual round of holiday spending and the oil bill.

I've got real progress to make: I need to make selections for my retirement plan, evaluate and adjust our debt reduction strategy and adjust our savings goals. I've also got to figure out how to help my kids learn to appreciate and manage money.

Here's to a prosperous 2014.

The Week In Review

August 6th, 2010 at 06:53 am

Financially, we had a mixed week.

With the accounts royally messed up by some combintaion of myself and the bank, we've had virtually no spending this week. We've managed to scrounge our meals out of leftovers and stuff in the freezer, so except for one trip to the farmstand, we've skipped grocery shopping for the second week in a row.

Unfortunately, while not spending is good -not spending because you're out of $ is bad. After a final accounting to confirm the bank didn't lose any $, I made the decision to start with a clean slate. I opened a new checking and savings account with a bigger bank, and we'll (hopefully) complete that transition next week. I'm excited about some of the features that come with these new accounts!

I secured a spot for my younger son at a new day care. The facility is not as nice, but the staff and the care seem good. Financially, we'll have a $25 decrease in our weekly payment. With the school changes starting in September for both boys, it looks like we'll be ahead about $688 a month.

Also, beginning this week, I began putting a modest monthly payment to my retirement account.

The first order of business is to make sure we're on track with our savings to meet our estimated tax payments. Next, we'll put together a savings plan to shore up the emergency fund and pay for summer day camp for my oldest -because for the first time, I'll need to pay separately for summer child care. Once that budget is in place, whatever's left will go towards CC debt.

I hope that in a couple of months I'll be able to post about some real progress on that debt!

Slight Panic

August 5th, 2010 at 09:47 am

Last night when I arrived to pick up my boys from day care I was told that the center is closing permanently in October.

I hope I looked like I took the news ok, because it put me in a tailspin and I began to panic.

There are a limited number of quality child care providers in our area -and an even fewer number of providers that we can afford. I got home and called a local home provider who we had been happy with years ago, (she's mulling over whether she wants a new child) and I've now spent the better part of the day calling places. There are a few spots for full time care to be found -and the price ranges are incredible. (Our rate is $210 starting next month, down from the $240 we've been paying - the highest rate I've been quoted so far is $375/wk) Our sticking points (besdies general quality of care) are location and hours - because of the nature of my work and my husband's work location, we need a place that is open earlier and closes later. That's tough to find if you're on a budget.

On the flip side, I've scouted out a spot at the YWCA which is slightly less $ and includes swimming lessons -and is only a few blocks away from our current provider. I'm going to take a tour there this afternoon to see if it's someplace we can be happy with.

Most of all, I feel terrible about the wonderful teachers who are going to be looking for work in the next few months. They've been a second family to the boys, and they have always gone beyond what we would expect. I wish I could do or say something to help them.

Bank Shopping

August 4th, 2010 at 10:45 am

After Monday's hysteria, and a lot of hand wringing on my part, I've decided to take your advice and move banks. Again.

I'm not excited about the work involved in switching, but I am happy that we'll have some new perks and benefit from the added convienience of more branches and ATMs, and better customer service.

I also kind of feel like switching lets us start over -we can take this opportunity to evaluate the things that are working (saving more) vs. the things that aren't working (buying more) and adjust accordingly.

I just hope that the switch goes smoothly.

Bad Monday (Are there good ones?)

August 3rd, 2010 at 01:33 pm

Monday Morning

6:15. Baby has fever of 102.3

6:30. Husband informs me he is going to a funeral.

7:00. On-line statement reveals negative balance.

7:15. Investigation reveals that we have $3.00 in cash between us.

7:30. I raid son #1's piggy bank to give $ to husband for funeral. (Son #1 is too busy trying to convince Baby to make funny faces to notice he's been robbed.)

8:00. Husband leaves for funeral (with $), son #1 goes to school, baby decides to watch TV on the couch with me. I make mental note to re-pay son #1 when he's not looking.

11:00. Finally get to Dr.'s office. I offer silent prayer thankful that we have health care account credit card for co-pay. Dr. determines Baby has a virus that cannot be treated. We head home for a nap.


Our bank was bought out a couple months back and they have finally finished transitioning our accounts. For the second month in a row, the checking account has overdrawn on the 1st of the month. Because it appears to be their fault, I'm not being assessed any fees, but it is a real PITA. Not to mention it's stressful knowing that we're running that close to the line on the budget. I'd like to change banks, but husband says I'll get over it --and points out that we're running out of banks. (The ones I pick keep getting bought by bigger ones.)

If nothing else, I've learned one thing: we're going to have to keep some extra cash on hand for emergencies.

Problems of Abundance

July 29th, 2010 at 10:38 am

My father, a far wiser person than I, tells me that I have "problems of abundance." Don't know what to do on Saturday because you have too many invites? Problem of abundance. Not sure which leftovers to re-heat? Not sure what to wear? Right - Problems of abundance.

Today, I have some unexpected problems of abundance. My husband's company stock is up -way up. We sold some last week, and now we're wondering if we should sell the rest of it. Partner equalization at the firm meant I got $850 'extra' dollars this week, plus payment for travel expenses, and I'm told I'll be getting an 'extra' $75.00 each month. Earlier in the month I recieved a partner distribution -something we are supposed to get regularly, but haven't been able to count on in the tough economy.

I am taking 1/2 the $850 and putting it away for taxes (I am responsible to pay my own taxes quarterly -no withholding), the remaining money is to be split between savings accounts (emergency fund, vacation and christmas). The $75.00 each month is going to go (for the first time in a long time) into my retirement fund. About half of last week's stock sale is being held for taxes, the rest will pay for our new front stairs. The partner distribution is going to be held for taxes.

I am feeling more confident than usual that at the end of the year we'll have held enough money back for taxes. (Because my stake in the firm changes every year, as well as my compensation, we can only guesstimate what we'll owe each year.) If there is 'extra' left over after we pay the government, we'll then probably hold half that in reserve for next year, and put half into our existing debt.

I hope I'm making the right decisions here - I know it's probably better to put some of our newfound $ to our existing debt, but I'm also aware that I need to add to the emergency fund (which was depleted by a series of car disasters), should be funding some kind of retirement, and putting $ aside for Christmas and a planned vacation in 2012 is intended to prevent us from adding any $ to our existing debt.

Problems of abundance. Thoughts as to whether this plan is unreasonable...?

The Stairs

July 28th, 2010 at 07:09 am

Just a quick post to show off the new stairs! Ok, now you guys owe me photos of your wallpaper!! Smile

Mad Men, Contractors and The Grand Entrance

July 27th, 2010 at 07:18 am

I think we've finally realized that no matter what the budget for the project is, we should add 50%.

Our house is a little over 60 years old, and we are the second owners. The interior looks like the set designers from Mad Med had a bad day - mutant pineapple wallpaper, lots of goldenrod, and a bathroom with 3 shades of peachy pink (that, by the way, cannot be color matched). Primarily for safety reasons, we've had to do some substantial work on the exterior of the house (although the improvements have all had cosmetic value)- and we have a great landscaper who has worked with us for several years doing the various projects piece by piece.

This spring, we realized that the fieldstone front steps were going to need work. (By work, I mean: were dangerous, falling apart, and might not last the summer.) While my husband talked about doing the work ourselves, I determined that 1) my husband would take forever to do it, if it got done at all; 2) he has no idea what he's doing 3) it would look awful and we'd probably be re-doing the stairs again next year; 4) having a contractor do the steps was cheaper than divorce. We got several quotes and called our go-to landscaper. He gave us a reasonable estimate and we scheduled the project.

In June, the steps fell apart -I blame the chipmunk who had made a cozy bachelor pad inside, although I think the 2 year old had also been taking pieces of the steps and throwing them into the "lawn." (And by "lawn," I mean dead grass that sits in front of the house.)

The landscaper arrived last week. Like any project at our house, he quickly realized that it wasn't going well and he was going to have to build new steps from scratch. This is not a surprise - all of our repair experiences with this house have been similar.

The good news is that the work will be finished today and the steps look fantastic. The bad news is that he's $750 over estimate. I agree with the changes to the project, (and that the price is fair) but it's not like I can just go get that $ off the tree in the backyard. It's thrown a bit of a wrench into the budget...

I have said throughout that I want to spend the money to do these improvements right, but it's a lot easier to say that than to write the check.

Living in Stepford

July 26th, 2010 at 11:23 am

Disclaimer: this is mostly not financial in nature, and absolutely peppered with off the cuff sarcasm.

My oldest son starts kindergarden next month, and I'm nervous about starting at a new school with new parents and teachers, and not only because not everyone appreciates my dry humor and generally sarcastic nature.

I'm the only working mom in our neighborhood.

Our town is very...traditional. Stepford, Mad Men, Neil Armstrong on the Moon traditional. We don't have a gym or YMCA - we have a tennis club. We don't have sewers because "that's how the government gets into your house." (Actual quote) We don't have an ice cream shop or dry cleaner because it is "too industrial." Everyone uses last names.

At kindergarten orientation, the PTA co-president (we also have a co-secretary and a co-treasurer..?) told the assembled parents, "I know many of you moms are busy with your other children, sports programs and volunteer activities...(and then in a hushed voice) some of you may even work...!"

All of the school functions and meetings have been scheduled during normal business hours -which has been difficult to manage when both parents work. All the sports activities are scheduled for weekday mornings between 9:30 and 11:30 -impossible for us to manage.

I've already had a difficult time connecting with the other mothers. I know there are parents who have made some pretty interesting assumptions about our lifestyle and values based on what they perceive of our family...and it irks me. I am too tired to deal with this ridiculous "Mommy Wars" mentality.

I want to say to these people, "Look. What's important is that the kids grow up into responsible, caring adults with a love of life and learning. Who cares if you make tollhouse cookies while I'm arguing a motion? Your kids are going to turn into adults with dependancy issues, and my kids are going to be underemployed with multiple piercings and bad taste in music. Let's work together with what we've got!"

Also, I would like to go in to the Principal's office and say, "If you don't stop scheduling every freaking thing for a time between the hours of 9 and 2, I am going to be a giant boil on your backside for as long as my kids go to your school."

(For the record, I am not going to do either of those things.)

I am hopeful that we'll be able to make some new friends this year, and that my son's mohawk grows out before the start of the school year. Because if it doesn't, I have no chance of ever fitting in in Stepford.

Big Night Out vs. My Wallet

July 23rd, 2010 at 07:19 am

So, we had our big night out on Wednesday. Two big budget scores: first, we parked at a meter, saving about $18.00 in parking -all we had to do was walk 4 blocks.

We ended up having to eat dinner out, so we scored again with a little hole in the wall Hungarian restaurant, skipping the way more crowded (and expensive) places that lined the street. We all tried something new, had two desserts and all for under $20.00. (And had great service and left with plenty of time for the show!)

Then, at the show, despite our best efforts, we couldn't find anyone selling souveniers. We did buy the little guy some ice cream and shared a soda. So, all in all, not a bad night out. (And the show was wonderful!)

As we left the arena, the local baseball team had finished their game, and there were some terrific fireworks! Unfortunately, at exactly the same time, the skies opened up and we were drenched in a deluge -and those 3 blocks to the car seemed longer in the rain while carrying a waterlogged 5 year old. But he loved it. (And it was kind of fun getting soaked!)

Big Night Out

July 21st, 2010 at 10:17 am

We have a big night out planned, which I've been looking forward to for a few months. We're taking our oldest son to see Star Wars in Concert -and while I'm super excited about going, I'm also anxious about one thing: the gimmicks they try to sell you when you go to anything these days.

We're having dinner with my husband's parents at home (cost: $0), and the in-laws are watching the little one (cost: $0). I assume we'll have to pay some crazy rate for parking ($20.00?). Enter the gadgets, t-shirts, lightsabers, and jedi watchamahooozle -all overpriced, and all directly in the line of sight of the 5 year old.

I'm going to explain calmly that there are going to be a lot of things for sale there, but that we aren't going to be buying anything tonight. My son is actually pretty good about that kind of thing...but...I'm afraid that the temptation is going to be too much for him, and we're going to have to try and manage a very disapointed little guy.

Kids and Money

July 19th, 2010 at 06:45 am

Our oldest is 5 and a half, and I think it's time to start really teaching him about money: how to earn it, save it, and spend it. I'm just not sure how to go about teaching him in a way that will be meaningful.

He has a piggy bank, and it's pretty full. He knows about the bank, and (we) opened a savings account with his birthday money last year.

The next step, I suppose, is an allowance. Obviously, something small -because he's still little, and is pretty sure that the size of the coin is = to it's value. (He's still working on the fact that a dime is worth more than a nickle.) So, how much?

Then there's the other issue: do we give him an allowance no matter what, or do we ask him to do chores and then give him an allowance? I want to instill that as a member of the family, we all pitch in around the house -and that helping out is not optional (and not dependent on choosing to be paid). I also don't want him to get the impression that people just hand you money and you then go your merry way.

Finally, once we've provided him some sort of income, however small, how do we best teach him how to save money, how to spend money and how to use money to help others? I've heard of people insisting that kids put 1/3 to savings, 1/3 to charity and 1/3 for spending. Has anyone done that? How do you enforce it and has it worked? As a practical matter, do you use an envelope system? Extra piggy banks?

Any ideas out there?

When Trimming the Fat is Cutting Too Much

July 15th, 2010 at 07:17 am

We have cut out a lot of extras at our house in the last couple years (having the second baby was a bit of a financial stretch). However, I can attest that when one spouse is frugal and the other isn't - there are going to be times when you have to give in.

We went back to having the groceries delivered (for a 6.95 fee -often free with coupons and discounts): because it turns out that husband always overspends at the grocery store and when one or both of us goes (with kids) it's a nightmare. I find that we spend less, only buy what we need, and save time and santity by not going ourselves.

I learned not to complain about his occasional trips to the donut shop for coffee before work: because it's important to him to have that perk, especially since I've budgeted out all the other ones.

We treat ourselves to the occassional (4 times a year) expensive video game: because going to the movies is too expensive, and we really like spending time together killing aliens.

Finally, ice cream is very important to my husband -and we're lucky to have great New England ice cream stands. In the summer, I never, ever, suggest that he get a smaller size when we go out. Smile

iCame, iSaw, iPad

July 12th, 2010 at 09:58 am

Last year, my husband resigned his post as a director of a leadership camp and with his resignation went the only perk of the position -the director's laptop.

We decided to purchase a device to replace the laptop and add portability to documents my husband uses in his second job. I also thought that the iPad might have practical uses in running a home and as a lawyer. I started an account at SmartyPig and quietly saved over the last year or so. Last week we brought home the iPad.

As non-Apple people, we're still trying to figure out what is obviously a great tool. It's a little like jumping into pool when you're little, and hanging on to the side of the pool where you feel comfortable...

That said, does anyone out there have suggestions on financial management apps that have been useful to you or ways to use the iPad?

The 10 Month Slide

July 12th, 2010 at 09:39 am

As you can see, I haven't posted in about 10 months. We've been busy.

I wish I had posted, because I can see a corrolation between posting here and my fiscal management. Writing about what we're doing financially was (is) a great way to track our progress, feel accountable, and be able to see what is and isn't working.

On the financial front, we decided to stop the costly repairs on my car and bought a new sedan. I did a signficant amount of research, considered new and used cars, and I'm satisfied that we made the best fiancial decision for us. That said, I'm not overly enthusiastic about the monthly payment or the slight increase in car insurance.

We had some moderately expensive home improvements as well. The first was the replacement of a failed hot water heating system with a GE water heater, the second was taking advantage of the appliance rebates in June to replace our ailing refridgerator, and the third was the replacement of two toilets (circa 1960) with low flow water saving models. We're already seeing savings on the utility bill with the water heater, and I expect that this month's utility bill will showcase the lower water and electricity from our other two improvements.

Finally, for my confession, I'll admit that I had basically completely stopped monitoring our finances. Having Mint on-line is great - except when you never check it. I don't regret my decision to abandon doing all the fiances myself and by hand, but I am going to resolve to actually monitor things. Sadly, my wake up call came this morning when a credit card company called wondering where their payment was (ooops - forgot!) and while I did convince them to remove the fee, I've triggered the default rate. It's not a huge issue, because I don't use the card for purchases, but I'm dissapointed in myself.

We've got a couple changes coming up in the next few months: our oldest starts kindergarden (which means a slight reduction in daycare costs), our youngest gets bumped to a new room (another daycare cost reduction). First on my list is to shore up the emergency fund, and then take aim at debt elimination.

Anyone else expecting changes in September?

Falling off the Wagon

September 30th, 2009 at 06:27 am

I haven't written in a while - as you know, it's tough balancing a full time job, volunteer work, a family and a house.

When we find ourselves digging out, I also tend to discover that the budget has flown out the window. September has been a bad month. I spent more on coffee than I normally would, due in part to a toddler that has developed a sleeping problem. The tight schedule pushed grocery shopping to the end of the priority list, so we ended up getting take-out more often than I would like. I ended up going to the doctor and a specialist, so we got hit with two co-pays, and the co-pay for the trip to the ER with the toddler last month. My husband's lodge dues came up, the B.J.'s membership came up, and our membership to a local museum. Add to this an increase in day care fees, and the discovery that we owe two weeks of back day care (we pay by month, and I forgot that 2 months had 5 weeks instead of 4). To add insult to injury, we paid a babysitter so that we could talk to a kitchen remodel guy to find out what actually remodeling the kitchen would cost so we could start saving.

Oh, and we began refinacing the mortgage. Ultimately that will save us money, but it's added an extra layer of stress to an already dismal financial month. (And a modest and unexpected $400 fee.)

Just to add a little confusion, I stopped using Money to balance the checkbook and started using Mint. I'm still trying to figure out how to make that work for us.

Instead of wallowing in a sense of rising panic, I am determined to start fresh in October. We'll have to adjust the credit card debt reduction plan to reflect some charges to the card (like the refinancing fee), but we remain on track (mostly). The refinance is a good move, we're continuing to save for our goals and my husband put some hours in on his second job, which will certainly help the bottom line.

Hopefully, October will be significantly less exciting at our house.

Birthday Madness

September 14th, 2009 at 06:39 am

My youngest's birthday is at the end of the month and we're having a party. I'll leave my rambling on about how much I hate hosting kid's birthday parties out, because this is a frugal blog -not a parenting blog!

I had picked out some hand printed invitations on line, which coordinated with personalized thank you notes. Cost: $50.00. I couldn't figure out why a 2 year old would need either of those, so I went to Michaels and got some blank cards and construction paper. My husband spent a couple hours tracing the design I wanted and cutting out the shapes onto the black construction paper. The cost so far: $12.00.

We'll make our own cake this year, and the party favors will be construction hats for each kid: 12 for $6.00. As the party winds down, we're going to have the local construction guy drive his giant digger over to the house so that the kids (and parents!) can have pictures with the digger. Cost? Probably free, but I'm happy to give the guy some $ for his trouble, or at least a piece of cake!

I'm having the party from 2:30 to 4:30, so we'll have appetizers, cake and ice cream -no big meal.

It's a small party, and mostly family, so my hope is that we can unleash the kids outside on the swingset and let them entertain themselves (with supervision, of course!)

Hopefully, this simple approach will turn out not only to be frugal, but will be fun for kids and parents. I am desperately fighting the trend to have over the top parties for kids. We've already been to pizza parties with bouncy houses, cartoon characters, and had fish given to us as party favors. The last party had the ice cream truck come with unlimited ice cream for everyone. Before that, the parents had rented out the entire YMCA for a 4 year old's birthday. I don't want my kids to feel like we don't care about their birthdays -but I definately don't want them growing up thinking that stuff=love, either.

Remember the Monopoly Bank Error Card?

September 8th, 2009 at 12:35 pm

I rembember loving the bank error card in Monopoly. I didn't know what a bank error was, but I knew it gave me an extra $150 dollars in case I later landed on the B&O.

Well, our fine mortgage company didn't pull out the mortgage payment this month. Earlier in the month when I checked in with them, the automated telephone banking system advised me that they were undergoing maintenance and that pending payments would be credited by the 5th. Sure enough, now the telephone banking system tells me that I am current, my payment having posted on the 4th. The only problem? None of the $ was ever taken out of the checking account, and my bank says that no payments are pending.

Unfortunately, this is wreaking havoc on my financial mental wellbeing. I'm just getting used to my decision to stop hand inputting receipts into Money, and now I'm downright edgy about accidentally overdrawing the account -this giant missing transaction isn't making me feel any better.

Until the lender works this issue out - it's "do not pass go" at our house.

Wedded Bliss

September 7th, 2009 at 01:21 pm

The wedding to end all weddings was this weekend, and it seemed to go off without a hitch. The bride and groom are happy as can be, my wallet is significantly lighter (thanks in part to the really expensive wedding bar) and we're all relieved to be done with the whole affair. The biggest hitch was that the hotel accidently reserved us for the wrong night and charged us a no-show fee and would have been happy to charge us again for the (so called) last minute favor they were going to do for us in giving as a room for the night we had actually reserved. We declined and headed to my nearby in-laws, where our kids were staying. Now I have to wage battle with the hotel and the credit card company.

In other news, upon arriving home we found that the kitchen floor has failed. Fortunately, it doesn't appear to be a drastic failure, and it's something we can live with for the time being. Husband wants me to consider making a homeowner's claim, but I'm not so sure. I suspect that the replacement of the floor wouldn't exceed the deductable, so I'm not inclined to make this our second claim this year.

We're starting now to look at our expected winter expenses, everything from winterizing the house and the fuel oil bill, to the outside projects that have to get done before the snow starts flying. Hoepfully, despite the increase in the day care fees, we'll be able to get a few things done over the next few months and then have a quiet winter.

Dishwasher's Revenge

September 2nd, 2009 at 09:13 pm

For those of you poor souls that followed me through the entire post about the death of the dishwasher -thanks! The follow up is just as thrilling.

In a recurring theme in our house, things with the dishwasher installation didn't go quite as planned....

I got home this evening to find my husband working to install the new dishwasher. He made one trip to the hardware store, which for us is not too bad. I'm feeling pretty good, when I notice a puddle of water in the entry to our dining room. I grab a towel. "Hey, what's with the water?" I say. Then I step on the kitchen floor and watch water spurt into the dining room. I am now feeling pretty suspicious.

Husband tosses over his shoulder: "Oh, I didn't know it made it all the way over there." And then, he says, as if this happens all the time, "I shut the water off last night when I took the old dishwasher out, but the water shut off leaked all night, soaked through the subfloor and into the basement. So, it looks like its soaked all the kitchen flooring."

Did I mention that this particular kitchen floor was installed by my husband and father in law at start of the summer? Parts of the installation haven't even been finished yet! (But that's another story) Depending on how bad my luck is, it would seem like we're likely to have to pull out the old one and replace the entire floor - but first it's got to dry out, which will take a couple weeks.

The bright spot is that the dishwasher appears to work fine.

Is Balancing the Checkbook Passe?

September 2nd, 2009 at 01:44 pm

I've been balancing the checkbook every month since I was in college. First on paper and then (thank goodness) with Quicken and now Microsoft Money. The process is tedious and since I've never found a bank error - somewhat useless. I have never used most of the features those programs offered, except for an occasional report for taxes or to clarify a particular set of expenses. I found the budgeting tools to be wildly inaccurate for us -either that, or I never managed to put in the information correctly.

Now I find out that the cutting edge in household fiscal management is to use free on-line services to manage your accounts and budgets. Pretty charts and graphs plus paid for advertisers suggest improvements to your existing financial strategy.

I've looked at mint.com and thrive.com. Is anyone using those services? Are they useful/dangerous/or just time wasters? Is there any practical reason to continue hand entering transactions into Money?

Dishwashing Dilemna

September 2nd, 2009 at 09:15 am

Last Thursday, my husband pointed out that the Kenmore diswahswer light was blinking. Turns out that it had run a half cycle and died. Gritting my teeth, I found a repair place that would send someone to look at it for $50. (Sears wanted $123 to look at it, which included labor, but not parts). The repairman finally figured out that there was a short in the control board, which would cost $250 to replace.

Enter the dilemna. Repair or Replace? We bought the dishwasher in late 2005 after the old one that came with the house actually caught on fire. Consumer Reports had highly rated the Kenmore brand and we bought a highly rated middle of the road model on sale for about $350. Less than 4 years later, the dishwasher is broken, and the repairman helpfully adds that 1)he can't be sure that the shorting out of the control board didn't cause other problems or won't happen again and 2) in his experience, dishwashers only last 3 to 8 years.

So, trying not to think about the financial damage I'm inflicting, I decide to go with a new dishwasher. Besides the fact that it is broken, I have a couple of concerns about the unit that had surfaced in the last year or so (mold in unusual places, soap doesn't always dispense, occassional odd smells that disappear and re-appear with no discernable reason), and I suspect that this repair would have been the first of many. I decide to cut my losses.

Of course, Sears is having a promotion on dishwashers, but I'm not really inclined to buy another Kenmore, and we've had some bad experiences with Sears in the past couple years. I looked at Best Buy, Lowes, Home Depot, and a regional appliance place. I read Consumer Reports and all the consumer comments on every dishwasher model. I drove my husband crazy.

In a last-ditch Hail Mary effort, I called a very local appliance store -a no frills kind of place. They didn't have the model I'd settled on, but they had the next model up. The base price of both models was cheaper than anywhere else I'd looked. The salesman gave me a 5% discount, and the model came with a $50 factory rebate (they are switching to the new model year). The dishwasher is an Energy Saver, so we qualify for a $50 rebate from our town's utility department. We managed to get the old one into the SUV, so no delivery fees, and my husband is going to install the new one.

I ended up spending less on the better model than I had planned for my original choice -although in total about $200 more than the cost to repair the old one. The new model is more energy efficient and uses less water (which is good, since we have been running the dishwasher daily now that both kids are eating grown up food). It is quieter than the old one and has a better repair rating.

I still don't like the hit to the budget. We're in a position to pay for it (although it means a little belt tightening), but it feels like a move backwards for us. I've met my savings goals for three months and replaced the money in savings that we had spent on car repairs -but we're going to have a horrible financial weekend with this wedding (we have to pay for the tux rentals, wedding gift and hotel) and the dishwasher. Sigh.

I say tomato, you say toh-ma-to!

August 28th, 2009 at 07:33 am

Recent research by scientists at the University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University suggests that people tend to seek out their opposites in spending patterns. The researchers also determined that people self identify that they would be happiest with people of their own spending patterns -but the research suggests that people do not actively seek out partners who share their financial outlook.

The researchers noted that the findings suggest that we dislike aspects of our own spending patterns and unconsiously look for partners who believe differently. For example, thinking: "he makes me feel so free" or "she reins me in -I feel more responsible"

Unfortunately, partners who do not share a like outlook on finances are more likely to have marital conflict, and divorce.

(the abstract of the paper is here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1339240)

My husband and I are probably fiancial opposites, but rarely fight about finances, because he's taken the "Yes, dear" approach. That, and we can talk about finances without getting mad or accusatory (mostly!).

So, in the spirit of the study: is your partner your financial opposite?

Wedding Woes (for the bridal party)

August 26th, 2009 at 06:30 am

My husband and preschooler are in a wedding on Labor Day weekend. My husband is the best man. I am hopeful that this is the last wedding they will ever be in. Ever. It's hard not to compare this non-frugal, no holds barred, to heck with the financial and scheduling constraints of the bridal party wedding extravaganza with our (as I remember it) simple and beautiful wedding and reception.

But let's see the breakdown for this extravaganza (for us):
Husband's tux (which we had to drive 150 miles for): $200;
Son's tux (and shoes??!-because his black shoes won't match the other men?!): $200;
Wedding shower gift: $60.00;
Hotel for night of wedding: $145.00 (big fight about this one -but I think we didn't have much of a choice);
Wedding brunch: $unknown (but mandatory);
Bachelor party: $unknown (husband is keeping quiet about the details);
Wedding gift: $unknown (see below).

Then, there's the babysitting for the younger son, who was not invited to the wedding, the time off work for the rehearsal, driving across the state several times, and ... (cue ominous music) my dress.

My dress, which was supposed to be frugal as well as classic. It is classic, but definately not frugal. The wedding is orthodox Greek, in the late afternoon, so I wanted a dress that would look good in the afternoon, but fit in at the evening reception. I wanted something that covered my shoulders and would look ok with a hat, in case I had to cover my head. I wanted something classic, and that would look good for any pictures with my tuxedoed husband and son.

I bought on ebay a vintage 1950's dress, tea length, black taffeta with tiny off white polka dots, cap sleeves and a beautiful asymetrical neckline. I paid too much, but in my defense: it was the perfect dress; good vintage in my size (a modern 8/10) are tough to find; and I was suckered into an ebay bidding war. Then, I had to buy the crinoline and the undergarments, which cost more than I expected. At least the hat was frugal: $10.00. Except that it was the second hat, and the first one was $15. (I love hats.) Let's just call the dress $400. (Which, sadly, is more than I spent on my own wedding dress, veil, crinoline and undergarments.)

So, with my help, this wedding has been a financial disaster. (I can only guess what it's costing the couple and their families -and I'm thinking we're up around $40,000.) That said, we have to come up with an appropriate gift for the bride and groom. They already have a fully furnished house, and I bought a lovely shower gift for the bride, so I decided to go with cash.

The question is: how much? Is $100 too low? What is expected from the best man? Cash or check?

Has anyone been to a wedding lately? Do you think there's a difference in the spending of weddings of younger couples vs. weddings of older couples? Are weddings recession-proof? Also, does anyone need a vintage dress after Labor Day weekend?

I met the financial planner

August 21st, 2009 at 09:29 am

I took an hour off today to meet with the prospective financial planner. I think it's going to be a good fit for us. He seems reasonable about his investment strategies and able to adjust to our risk levels. I definately liked that he will be able to put together and review the entire portfolio from all our sources and examine the income/growth ratios globally. He has no issue with the fact that we've got investments that I'm not willing to change right now.

I liked that he had different compensation methods (fee and comission based) and we can choose which way works best for us and change at any time. No charge for phone calls, consulations, portfolio reviews and the like.

One of the things I liked best was that he didn't talk over my head, wasn't condesending and didn't make me feel like we'd wasted the last 10 years of our lives. He's also perfectly comfortable with the fact that we'll be investing small sums for a while while we work on our other financial priorities -the credit card debt, for one.

I took all the information he had, and I'll research more over the weekend, but my gut feeling is that this is the right guy for us right now.

Home Sweet *&#@ Home!

August 20th, 2009 at 06:22 am

Unbelievably, I've now made it through 2 weeks of frugal living -and it wasn't even painful! Spending so far this week? $0.00.

Now, as I try to figure out how to manage the household finances more effectively, I'm realizing that one of the holes in our budget is the expenses associated with home maintenance. They know our kids at Home Depot, we're there so often.

I know we have some expenses coming up: pumping the septic system ($400), repairing a broken storm window ($100?), and prepping the house for winter ($50). Then there's our annual discussion of the horror of the dirt driveway. Every year I swear that I will not go another winter with that driveway...I'd also like to replace our 1950's toilets with low water versions ($300).

So, what's the best way to go about budgeting for a house that past its prime in 1962? Save for individual planned expenses? Just put the money aside every week and use it as necessary? Some kind of hybrid plan? Does anyone follow a maintenance schedule -and does it help with the budget?

Fear of the Financial Planner

August 19th, 2009 at 06:50 am

Yesterday, I made an appointment to speak to a financial advisor. My husband has a fairly robust 401k through his employer. On the other hand, I have not invested in any retirement account in over 5 years. My "portfolio" is sadly lacking.

I have an IRA and mutual fund that have languished for at least 10 years. I have something that was started by my employer before I was a partner, which appears to be invested in a CD. The total value of my retirement portfolo is less than $20,000.

In addition, I need solid advice about managing our tax liability and our current life insurance policies and limits.

I am surprised that I let the whole retirement thing get so bad, but I know that studies show that I am not alone. Women, for a variety of reasons, tend to shun away from traditional finacial planning and to delay planning for their own retirements. Instead of kicking myself about how I got here (when I was the kid that opened an IRA when I was 19!), I'm going to try to focus on the postive - it's not too late to put aside the $ to have a great retirement!

Not surprisingly, when I told my husband I was going to speak with a potential financial advisor, he was indifferent. While he's happy poking at his company stock options now and then on E*trade, he's basically uninterested in managing any of the finances. I suppose I should just be grateful that he's supportive and on board with the plan going foward.

I can't explain why, but I am terrified of this meeting. My inner voice has been telling me it's ok if I want to cancel and I've come up with some great excuses. Whenever that little voice chimes in, I remind myself that I'm not committing to anything just yet, and I take a deep breath.

Anyone have any thoughts about long term financial planning or financial planners?

The Plan! The Plan!

August 18th, 2009 at 07:24 am

My apologies to Fantasy Island. I used to love that show when I was a kid, although I suspect now that I had no idea what was going on during the episodes. At our house, I also suspect that we've been living on our own little Fantasy Island.

The first payments to the credit cards in our new reduction plan began today. At the current rate, our credit card debt will be paid off in 2 years.

I created a budget based on the payments we were already making to the lenders (which were greater than the minimums), so that the shock of our more focused frugal lifestyle wouldn't be derailed before we could appreciate some of the benefits. For example: I didn't cancel the cable/internet. I am leaving the cell phone plans alone at $30/mo for my husband and I. And, I have told myself that it is ok if I want to buy a coffee or have an inexpensive lunch out.

I also built 4 savings goals into the budget: the emergency fund, a Disney Cruise (for 2012), a Christmas fund, and a fund for a china cabinet. People would be absolutely right to say that we should be putting every cent into our debt reduction. The fact is, the all or nothing budgets haven't worked for us. My thought is that by building some of our wants into the budget, we'll have an incentive to keep to the plan.

If the debt reduction budget works out the way I've envisioned, we'll have extra each month -my plan is to put that extra towards the credit card debt.

We will continue to carry a heavy burden of student loan debt (my law school loans top $100,000), mortgage and car payment. I will start looking at those once we've paid off the credit cards.

Thinking about our financial situation is both frightening and empowering. I know how we got where we are, and I'm trying very hard to stay positive and focused on where we are going to be.

Happy Birthday, Davy Crockett!

August 17th, 2009 at 10:11 am

Davy Crockett was born August 17, 1786. He died at the age of 49 at the Alamo. He was a serviceman, a husband, a member of the House of Representatives, a writer and father of 6.

Davy Crockett was popularized in the 1950's by Walt Disney in a series of televison programs and films originally produced as part of the run-up to constructing Disneyland. It is reported that American consumers snapped up $300 million dollars in Davy Crockett merchandise by 1955.

For contrast: in 1786, the year of his birth, Philadelphia printers went on strike to protest a reduction in their wages from approximately $6.00 per week to $4.33 per week. (They won.) California (Disneyland's home), was purchased in 1848 for about 15 million dollars.

Davy Crockett saw the start of the industrial revolution. Over his lifetime, the steam boat (1786), gas lighting (1792), small pox vaccination (1796), tin can (1810), steam locomotive (1814), typewriter (1829), sewing machine (1830) and the stereoscope (1832) were invented.

He is quoted as having said: "Always be sure you are right, then go ahead."

Good advice. Happy Birthday, Mr. Crockett.

Weekend Recap

August 17th, 2009 at 06:46 am

Yay! My second frugal weekend was a success. I think it's getting easier -or maybe I've just had a run of good luck!

Total for the weekend? $70.00.

I am on my own with the kids this week, so I headed to Wal*Mart, coupons in hand, for frozen veggies and easy to make semi-prepared meals. I know the semi-prepared meals aren't the cheapest option, but for us, they are more practical this week. Total grocery bill for the week (including two lightsticks): $70.00.

The kids played in the backyard and their wading pool, and Saturday evening's entertainment was "Return of the Jedi," (DVR'd from a week ago) and two light sticks. Sunday we headed off to the grandparent's house for lunch, and the central AC.

We are on-track for a great frugal week!

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